Veterinarian Involvement in the Prevention and Intervention of Human Violence and Animal Abuse: A Survey of Small Animal Practitioners
The objectives of this study were to 1) characterize small animal veterinarians' attitudes about their role in prevention and intervention in suspected cases of human violence and/or animal abuse presenting in a clinical setting, 2) estimate the incidence of animal abuse seen in small animal practices using self-reported rates of suspected animal abuse, and 3) relate demographic and practice data to the incidence data and responses regarding abuse intervention and prevention. The study design was an epidemiological investigation with descriptive and analytical components using a self-administered questionnaire. The sample consisted of 1000 small animal veterinarians randomly selected from the membership list of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Relevant data regarding the veterinarians' attitudes about human violence and animal abuse intervention were collected through an anonymous, self-administered mail survey. Estimated animal abuse incidence data, level of agreement to statements about veterinarian involvement in suspected human or animal abuse, and opinions about professional responsibility to intervene were compiled, described and compared to detect differences among demographic and practice groups.
The mean estimated animal abuse incidence was 0.56 +/- 1.83 (SD) abuse cases suspected per 100 cases seen and ranged from 0 - 25. There was considerable variability in how veterinarians defined abuse. An overwhelming majority of the respondents recognized that a connection existed between animal abuse and child abuse as well as spouse abuse (86% and 77%, respectively) although older veterinarians did not recognize these connections as often. Slightly over half of the respondents felt that veterinarians had a responsibility to intervene in situations where they suspected family violence; but only 8% agreed they had the appropriate resources, only 8% agreed that they understood associated legal issues, and only 2% agreed that they had appropriate training. Regarding animal abuse, over a third felt they lacked the resources to help clients prevent animal abuse and 57% felt that they understood the legal issues surrounding their involvement in animal abuse. A large majority (84%) felt that veterinary education did not adequately prepare students for dealing with abuse intervention. Because there is an association between animal abuse and human violence, there is a likelihood that veterinarians will encounter the effects of both types of abuse in a clinical setting. Despite an obligation to intervene felt by most of the veterinarians in this sample, the results indicate that there is a general feeling of ill-preparedness that can likely only be removed by increasing educational opportunities provided to veterinarians about violence intervention and prevention.
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